What is a “Friend” today?

social media friendsI loaded up Facebook today and saw posts by the following – a mother of 2 who I attended school with since elementary but haven’t spoken to in probably 20 years, a friend whom I was close with in high school but have lost the connection, a colleague in the ministry, a couple of family members, and a few current and former church members of churches I have served or am serving. All in all, I have over 700 ‘friends’ on Facebook, many of which I know but some whom I have never met and a few who I don’t exactly know how we have a connection. Yet, as far as Facebook is concerned, we are ‘friends’.

Being a ‘friend’ today is much different than it was when I was growing up. As a kid, a friend was someone whom I interacted with almost daily and shared close secrets. Today’s definition of ‘friend’ is much broader and one that I think we should examine closely. Today’s ‘friend’ is someone whom you share a social media experience with and it brings with it both some good and some bad. I love seeing and sharing the lives of old friends from my childhood, for example. Though we aren’t as close as we once were, I still enjoy sharing life with them. But this broader sense of ‘friend’ means I don’t have the trust and intimacy that lends itself to those secret moments I once had with friends. Still, I enjoy being ‘friends’ and sharing life with the over 700 people I have connected with through Facebook.

But I do admit that, while I enjoy my ‘friends’, I also find times of struggle. I see posts from people that I find insulting or that go against my values and I wonder if they really need to be my ‘friend’. I also see continued posts from people who, while I’m not offended by them, I find it hard to be interested because I can’t seem to find any connection with them. To that end I have found these 3 criteria on which I will base my definition of ‘friend’ as it comes to social media:

  1. Respect and Trust – Do I find what you post as respectful towards me and others? Do you post things that make me doubt any trust I might have in you?
  2. Values and Morals – Do we share similar values? Are your posts consistent with my morals?
  3. Interests and Experiences – Do we have a connection through a shared interest or experience?

Now there may be some that share my values, but show no respect. If you share my value for Christianity, for example, but post things insulting and disrespectful towards non-Christians, I don’t know if I need to consider you a ‘friend’. Similarly, if you show respect but we have polar opposite values, I don’t know if we’re ‘friends’. Do we have similar values and respect but have no shared interests? Maybe we just aren’t that close.

I’m not expecting that everyone should think and act the way that I do, but I do expect that our connections through our respect, values, and interests to be stronger than our differences. I want my time of Facebook to be one where I can enjoy my time with others and not feel frustrated or confused by what others may post.

What about you – how do you determine your ‘friends’ on Facebook or other social media?

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